CVU School Board News

Congratulations to the following students for their recent acceptance in CVU’s Lucien Lambert Chapter of the National Honor Society.

Shelburne: Delan Chen, Oliver Choiniere, Paige DuBrul, Samantha Harvey, Molly Keenan, Katherine King, Lauren Macy, Kaitlin Songer, Emma Vincent.

School Contract Negotiations: modeling civic, collaborative and creative interactions in CSSU

In October, the CSSU School Boards (Charlotte, Hinesburg, Shelburne, St. George, Williston, CVU and CSSU) and the CSSU Teachers Association ratified a three-year contract, effective July 2014 through June 2017. The negotiation of school contracts is a complicated business, and involves much more than arriving at mutually acceptable employee wages and benefits. Defining working conditions that can be afforded by the community, that support best educational practices and that retain highly qualified educational staff requires thoughtful, creative, and respectful collaboration between educators and the community, especially in a rapidly changing landscape of K-12 education. In a time when economic recovery has been frustratingly slow and national debates frustratingly partisan, the board wants to take a moment to share with you some of the “behind the scenes” values-driven thinking that informed this year’s negotiations work.

At the end of the 2010-2013 negotiations session, it is safe to say that there was widespread dissatisfaction with the process. The negotiations structure at the time was partly responsible for members of both parties feeling unheard, and, at times, disrespected. The CSSU board identified a need to address frustrations within the current system and to work with the association to develop mutual solutions that were within each party’s control to address. As a result, a joint committee was negotiated into the 2013-2014 contract with the association’s agreement that improvements were a common goal.

The joint committee of the board and the association met several times during the 2013-2014 school year. The themes that arose were around mutual respect and the culture of the process and how to better organize and structure the process to allow for open communications and dialogue on the issues presented by both sides.

The results of those meetings were ground rules that were recommended to each negotiation team prior to the start of the new negotiations process and ultimately adopted at the start of the formal negotiation process. Critical components of the new ground rules were:

  • Disconnecting public disclosure of the proposals from the declaration of impasse. Previously, in order for boards to answer questions about the budget before town meeting day, a declaration of impasse had to be made, even when both parties were willing to continue to negotiate. Under the new rules, both parties agreed to waive the requirement that proposals be confidential until impasse. As a result, either party could share information starting in December/January to permit a more open public discussion of the school budget process during its final development stages and still allow the negotiation process to move forward.
  • Agreeing to allow any board member to observe the process rather than only those who were members of the negotiating team. Non-team members were thus given a chance to observe and gain a better understanding of the process. This and other changes implemented by the boards improved communication between the board team and the boards. As a result, the board team could be reduced in size from two representatives per board to one. This made the negotiations teams more comparable in size, simultaneously creating more manageable meetings and addressing a concern raised by the association.
  • Setting the meeting schedule and length of meetings in October. One of the mutual frustrations was the difficulty in coordinating meetings between the parties. Having a set schedule allowed everyone to reserve the dates for meetings in advance and prevent unreasonable delays between meetings. Meetings started and ended on time.
  • Sharing meals jointly prior to each meeting. In the past, negotiations teams ate in separate rooms before entering into joint discussions. Sharing common meals promoted positive relationships and built better connections between the individuals on both teams.
  • Setting agendas of meeting topics in advance, as well as deadlines for mediation and fact finding. Another frustration of past processes was the delay that accompanies the selection of a mediator and fact finder, and the process of scheduling meeting times with them. By selecting the fact finder and mediator in advance, and confirming them for a specific date, the parties were able to proceed with the knowledge that, if needed, there would be no delay in moving forward in the process due to the scheduling of a third party to assist in the next step.

In addition, during the 2013-2014 contract development process, it was decided to establish joint working groups to delve into particularly complex topics prior to the start of formal negotiations to provide the time needed to arrive at mutually agreeable solutions, thus avoiding potential sources of conflict later in the process. The topics addressed during this round of negotiations centered on flexible scheduling of teachers and consolidation of special education at the supervisory union level.

The broad goals of the new process were to create a more respectful process for all involved, allow for better communications between the board team and all board members and maintain a positive relationship between the board and association throughout the process. All parties recognized that once a settlement is reached, no one ever feels like they won, but everyone wanted to feel positive about the process between the two parties in reaching the agreement.

Did the new process achieve its goals? While the teams have not yet met to assess the outcomes of the new process or to discuss potential improvements for the next round of negotiations, the CVU School Board believes that the joint commitment of the boards and association to strive for civil, collaborative, and creative interactions is not only noteworthy in this day and age, but exactly congruous with the educational philosophy of our schools.

Community Invitation to upcoming CVU events:

Jan. 10 – All State Music Festival

School Board Representatives:

Shelburne: Susan Grasso, sgrasso@cssu.org; Joan Lenes, jlenes@cssu.org; Kim Schmitt, kschmitt@cssu.org